Toyota won their first 24 Hours of Le Mans on Sunday with Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima at the wheel as his two co-drivers Fernando Alonso and fellow former Formula 1 driver Sebastien Buemi watched from the pits.
The Spaniard won the race at his first attempt to give the Japanese manufacturer, which had at times seemed jinxed, victory at their 20th attempt.
Alonso, a double Formula 1 world champion, was the star turn here as he became the sixth driver to complete the Monaco-Le Mans double after Tazio Nuvolari, Maurice Trintignant, Bruce McLaren, Jochen Rindt and Graham Hill.
Only Hill also won the Indy 500 for what has become known as the Triple Crown of motor sports and is 36-year-old Alonso’s avowed goal now he has slipped down the pack in F1.
He shared the driving in Toyota N.8 with the Swiss Sebastien Buemi and Nakajima and clearly demonstrated his skill and adaptability as a driver to the 256,900 spectators.
In his first driving stint on Saturday, Alonso made two breathtaking overtaking manoeuvres to pinch first place from the other Toyota, No. 7, with Argentine Jose Maria Lopez at the wheel.
Late at night, after Buemi drew a one minute “stop and go” penalty, “Nando” took over and sparkled in the darkness as he closed the gap on the other Toyota.
Alonso climbed out of his car smiling after that shift scarcely showing signs of fatigue.
“I felt good at night. I was in the zone and I pushed to catch up,” he said.
Nakajima then took the lead and with Mike Conway incurring a stop and go penalty for Toyota No. 7, Alonso’s team was able to pull away finish just over a lap ahead.
Before the race, Buemi who, like Nakajima, had been vainly chasing a Le Mans victory since 2012, said Alonso “was a real plus for the team.”
The last F1 driver to win at Le Mans was Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg with Porsche in 2015, but he only entered one race, while Alonso signed for the entire endurance season and,after winning the first two rounds, is leading the overall standings.
Toyota is the only manufacturer with a team in the World Endurance Championships after the withdrawals of Audi and Porsche in the last two years.
Their work on reliability over the winter has paid off with no sign of the mechanical failures that had plagued the team since 2012. The only Toyota problem this weekend came 90 minutes before the end when Japanese Kamui Kobayashi crawled into the pit at the wheel of the Toyota N.7 almost out of fuel.
As the clock ticked past 24 hours, the relief was visible on all the faces of the Toyota crew in the pit and the winning drivers as they completed a victory lap with Alonso and Buemi sitting on the car as Nakajima, who completed the last stint, drove.
The Toyotas finished first and second in the top category, Le Mans Prototype 1, where the competition was eight non-hybrid prototypes run by private teams.
Five of those failed to finish, including the SMP Racing car driven by another former F1 champion Jenson Button failed to finish.
Toyota’s closest challengers were the two Rebellion Racing cars which finished 12 laps back.